By Ayodele OKUNFOLAMI
MONTHS before the Independent National Electoral Commission announced dates for the 2019 general elections, one would have thought they were coming sooner. This is because Nigerians are always preparing for the next elections. It is as if we live only for election cycles.
Besides giving a defective definition of democracy through the myopic lens of elections, it mirrors a helpless electorate who can’t use other constitutional tools like impeachment or recalls to hold the elected accountable. More worryingly than the picture of a political system where candidates win elections not on their individual strengths but on the formidability of their political platforms, is the fact that governance is put on the back burner.
There has been, for a while now, hyperbolic whispers on the formation of a mega party as a “third” alternative for 2019. This follows the unsatisfactory sixteen years of the People’s Democratic Party and an already kneejerk All Progressives Congress that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with the promised change. Proponents of this alternative platform are obviously pissed off with the two main parties, PDP and APC, over their failure to deliver the much anticipated dividends of democracy and imperatively desire a new party without the buccaneers, but of purist politicians, to emerge.
This sounds too utopian to be possible in our clime. First of all, as it stands now, Nigeria has more than two and a half dozen political parties with more queuing for registration. Does it mean the Nigerian voter is so picky that none of the fourteen presidential candidates in the last elections suited his vision? The Nigerian voter really has to be realistic and tame his leadership taste and make the best of the options before him instead of looking for a “third” party or “fifteenth” candidate.
The same argument goes for independent candidacy. Aside being unconstitutional for now, many of the political parties that crowd the ballot are so weak in strength, shallow in depth and thin in spread that their flagbearers are as good as independent.
As history has shown us, democracy has a way of bringing up oligopolies so that the political space thins up to two or three. With this, the winnable option for 2019 would be the formation of a mega party (if there is any term like that). But with the broom experience whose difference with the umbrella is proving the same, would the mega party, that is rumoured to consist of breakaway members of both parties, not end up as another PDP or APC?
My penny worth advice is that the electorate should be more vigilant in protecting our democracy and more demanding until expectations are met.Now that our escape from jail can only be wrought by individuals in the system, seemingly speaking, some others have tilted the arguments to ethnic side of things.
That is why since a former president said that he backed the Igbo for the presidency to address the injustice in the polity, there have been political realignments in the South-East. So, whether it would be 2019 or 2023, the Igbos are gearing up for Aso Rock.
But where has provincial presidency taken us besides the pseudo psychological satisfaction that “our man is in power”? Over time, it has shown that regions from where the Nigerian president come are left deficient in infrastructure, education, healthcare and every other common denominator.
So, can the Igbos wager that a red-capped president guarantees the second Niger Bridge, East-West Rail or an international airport? Did the African American fare any better with Barack Obama in the White House?
What I think the Igbos and any other tribe or group that feel entitled to a tokenistic presidency should embark on is to ensure that their votes are used as bargaining tools for their ultimatums. Despite not being seen as the conventional Christian or one of moral standing, Donald Trump gets the support of the white evangelical American church because they see him as one to make their right conservative demands possible. This is the way to go if our democracy would produce results because at the end, democracy is more about getting what we want than getting who we want.
The same case goes for the pro-youth camp that wants to do away with this dour and bland gerontocracy for the vim, energy and agility of youth. Truthfully, Nigeria needs a sharp and reformist president with electricity to urgently deliver on the dividends of democracy, but it is more in the spirit of the individual than in his age. A bolts and nuts look at our society, it would be a tough one for any youth when one considers the quinquagenarians and sexagenarians institutionalized in our public service as permanent secretaries and directors, and political parties as chieftains. There is bound to be a clash of cultures between the eager digital youth and the analog system that perceives him as spoilt, forward and disrespectful. Above and beyond the big stage, youths have left community leadership for pensioners and so may not have been tried, tested and trusted enough for the big seat.
But, is the Nigerian youth empowered intellectually, politically and economically enough to take up the leadership mantle early in his life? Reason why I think the youth rather mandates empowerment in form of education and opportunities.
For a youth presidency not to be superficial, the youth should use their numbers to make certain that youth wings of every political party are vibrant with one of them and not a sixty-year old as their elected representative in the working committees.
Instead of being a violent tool in the hands of politicians, they can use their political capital to ask that positions like Chief of staff or junior ministers that are youthful in design be ceded to them. Since power is not given but earned, the Nigerian youth should build on the few positions they have acquired as local government chairs or State House of Assembly members by proving themselves.
Okunfolami writes from Lagos